WHEELING - Mourad Marofit sure knows how to make dazzling debut.
The 31-year-old Moroccan and former Olympian, competing in his first American race, cruised to the overall championship at the Debbie Green Memorial 5K Run/Walk for Leukemia on Saturday evening at Heritage Port.
He shattered the course record, crossing the finish line in 13:46. The time was also a West Virginia best.
Male winner Mourad Marofit takes the lead Saturday. Additional images can be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
''He wanted to set the course record and he did it,'' said Marofit's interpreter and agent, Larisa Mikhaylova. ''He is in very good condition right now.''
Meseret Ritata Tolwak, a 20-year-old native of Ethiopia, won the women's crown.
''I'm happy I won,'' she said through an interpreter. ''The course did not seem really difficult.''
It was a beautiful night for racing in 'The Friendly City' and more than 1,000 runners turned out to not only try their hand at the course, but to aid Race Director Ron Green's ongoing efforts to rid the world of the disease that took his sister, Debbie, more than 40 years ago.
In the end, it was Marofit who stole the show, winning the race by more than 16 seconds over runner-up Julius Koskei (14:02).
Emmanuel Bor (14:07) was third. Baisa Moleta (14:19) and Degefa Deriba (14:25) rounded out the top 5.
Marofit competed for Morocco in the 5,000 meters in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing where he failed to make the final.
He recently arrived in the United States and is now a member of the L.M. Elite Running Club, operated by Mikhaylova.
''We have runners in this race every year,'' she said. ''Everyone knows about this race. It is very popular.''
Marofit found the Green course to be quite pleasant and the seasonably cool temperatures were an added bonus.
''I like this course,'' the French-speaking Marofit said through his agent. ''I also like the people. They are very nice.
''Sometimes if you aren't ready, the hills will kill you.''
Rkia El Moukim was the second female racer to cross the finish line, doing so in 15:54. Susan Jerotich (16:03) was third, followed by Tigist Tvfa (16:31) and Jessica Odorel (16:34).
Kevin Castille (14:42) and Brenda Hodge (19:52) were the top Masters Man and Masters Woman, respectively, on the running side.
Mike Romzy (19:09) won the Grand Masters Male running crown, while Tina Seech (20:32) topped the Grand Masters Woman running category.
Wheeling's Kirby Fazio (30:07), Annette White (30:33) and Erica Herman (31:50) took the top three spots in the Open Women division of the 5K Walk.
Lee Stough (24:23) won on the men's side, with St. Clairsville's Joe Davies (24:58) second and Moundsville's Gary Bennett (26:07) third.